Year of the Watermelon

By Susan Littlefield

For all of you for whom summer just wouldn't be summer without a sweet crisp watermelon to sink your teeth into, you'll be glad to learn that the National Garden Bureau has declared 2013 as the Year of the Watermelon. Ranging in size from tiny icebox melons to behemoths weighing as much as 50 pounds, there is a watermelon to suit every taste. But more and more of them are seedless -- it's estimated that 50 percent of all commercially grown watermelons are now seedless. Will summer seed spitting contests become a thing of the past?

Watermelons are thought to have originated almost 5000 years ago in the Kalahari Desert region of Africa. Some other fun facts -- they were buried in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs to provide sustenance in the afterlife, were boiled by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War to make molasses, and are added to stir-fries in Chinese cuisine.

One of the best things about watermelons is that, not only are they delicious, they are packed with good nutrition as well. They're high in Vitamin C and the healthful antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene, along with a host of other vitamins and minerals, and low in calories.

Watermelons are not difficult to grow, but they do need heat and most need a long growing season. Fortunately for northern gardeners, varieties have been bred that ripen quickly, such as 'Shiny' Boy' or 'Yellow Baby', which mature in just 70-75 days.

To learn more about watermelons, their history, nutritional benefits, and tips on growing and harvesting, go to National Garden Bureau.

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